The long-awaited Volt is a car Chevrolet hopes will revolutionize transportation. Unlike conventional hybrids, which drive the wheels with electric or gas power, the Volt is a battery-powered electric car that has a gas-powered range-extending generator onboard to keep the car going if the charge runs out. The Volt is essentially a four-door hatchback family car with two rear seats separated by a console that houses part of the car's long, T-shaped battery pack. While other electric cars are low-volume products, Chevrolet intends for the four-seat Volt to grow to mainstream status. The company's goal is to build 10,000 Volts for 2011 and 30,000 for 2012.
The range extender takes away what remains the greatest impediment to battery-electric car acceptance: range anxiety, which is the fear of running out of juice when far from a source of electricity. With the Volt's roughly 40-mile range on a full charge, Chevrolet says about 80 percent of Americans could commute to and from work entirely on electric power.
Chevrolet says the distance you can travel on electric power alone ranges from 25 to 50 miles, and the mileage once the gas engine starts (not yet EPA rated) runs from 35 to 40 mpg. Efficiency varies with driving style, temperature, number of passengers and other conditions, such as terrain, which is why everything's cited as a range. The gas-powered generator extends the Volt's range by 310 miles.
The car is eligible for a federal tax credit of $7,500. It will go on sale by the end of 2010, initially in California, Washington, D.C., New York City and Austin, Texas. It will then hit dealerships in New Jersey, Connecticut, Michigan and the rest of Texas in the first quarter of 2011. Additional markets will be added gradually, reaching all 50 states within 12 to 18 months, according to Chevrolet.
The Volt is unmistakable as a recent Chevy design, and though its profile and rear hatch design suggest it's something different, it's not as conspicuously styled as some efficient cars, including the Nissan Leaf. The shieldlike front grille looks like it allows little cooling air into the engine compartment and it's true, but plenty of air enters through an opening low on the bumper.
As expected, the Volt has two places to "fuel" up: a conventional gas filler door on the right rear fender and a charging port on the driver's side front fender.
The Volt's cabin seats four and is outfitted with cloth seats; leather is an option. At 10.6 cubic feet, the cargo volume is modest for a car of this size, and especially for a hatchback, which typically provides more space than a trunk. For the 2011 model year, the Volt includes a navigation system and five years of full OnStar service as standard features.
Under the Hood
For electric-only operation, the 350-volt, 16-killowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack propels the car with 149 horsepower and 250 pounds-feet of torque. When the battery is depleted, a 1.4-liter four-cylinder gas engine kicks in with 84 hp to drive an electric generator.
The Volt requires premium gasoline. Currently it doesn't accept E85, an ethanol blend, but Chevy expects to add a compatible version next year, along with one that qualifies as a Partial-credit Zero Emissions Vehicle, which is likely to extend the eight-year, 100,000-mile battery warranty to 10 years and 150,000 miles.
Chevrolet estimates a fully depleted Volt battery will recharge in eight to 10 hours using common 120-volt household power. With 240 volts, which requires a charging station, the time drops to four hours. The charging station is priced at a relatively low $490, plus installation. The car allows owners to schedule charging times to take advantage of off-peak rates. An application for smartphones gives owners remote control over this feature along with detailed monitoring capability.
The Volt is equipped with eight airbags, including the frontal pair and knee airbags for both front occupants. There are also front-seat-mounted side-impact torso airbags and side curtains to cover the front and rear door windows. Antilock brakes and an electronic stability system with traction control are also included. OnStar provides a variety of safety features, including automatic rescue notification in the event of an airbag deployment.
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